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California Burning, Puerto Rico Drowning

By Bonnie Weinstein

Fight Back

Fightback!:
A Collection of Socialist Essays

by Sylvia Weinstein


Preventing or coping with natural disasters can only be managed by massive collective efforts unhampered by economic restrictions. That means that society must be structured so that the health and safety of all must be our priority.

But this is not how capitalism works. Capitalism breeds chaos because its priority is to maximize profits above all else. And when natural disasters do occur, the capitalist class blames the unpreparedness of individuals for the hardship they endure, and leaves the responsibility to rebuild up to them. Those with the most money and the best insurance coverage can rebuild. Those who can’t afford insurance, or even a home of their own, are just plain out of luck.

This logic of capitalism was reflected in an October 13, 2017 CounterPunch article by George Wuerthner titled, “Why California is Burning,”1 which claims that it’s the individual who must be responsible for preventing fires:

“If you want to save your community, you must have mandatory fire wise policies that are enforced…. But when your neighbor fails to protect their home [clearing brush and fireproofing their homes], they are demonstrating a lack of community value and a selfish attitude towards the rest of the town…. Wildfire in your neighborhood…can be reduced or prevented with reasonable building codes and mandatory fire-wise regulations.”

What Wuerthner gets wrong is that many people can’t afford or, due to age, illness, etc., are unable to clear their land or fireproof their homes. It’s the same in flood zones and hurricane pathways, or in earthquake country. It’s insane to leave this up to the individual.

Were the people in New Orleans supposed to have shored up the levees on their days off work? Were the victims of floods supposed to go out and rebuild the dams or move their homes away from the flood zones on their own? What were the people of Puerto Rico supposed to do? Move their island out of hurricane Maria’s path? And the same holds true for those living in earthquake country. There’s just so much one can do to shore up a home before a giant earthquake hits.

And, of course, in every natural disaster, it’s the poor who suffer the most hardship and hazard, and who get the least help before and after disaster strikes.

Capitalist war and environmental plunder

And it doesn’t only apply to natural disasters. In war, masses of people, now in the hundreds-of-millions, have been forced to migrate due to the bombings that have destroyed their land and homes, and to the poverty brought about by capitalist greed. We are seeing our environment destroyed by mining and oil drilling; by deforestation in order to graze cattle or plant more profitable crops; by the contamination of our land and water by corporate irresponsibility, like what has happened with the lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan—and by the wholesale destruction of our environment by giant corporations whose only concern is profits. In fact, it is suspected that Pacific Gas and Electric’s power lines, woven through un-cleared, drought-ridden forests, which were blown down by heavy winds, caused the California fires.

Environmental catastrophes are not the result of individual neglect, just as war isn’t about one group of people hating another. Wars, and the devastation brought about by natural disasters made worse by global warming, and the failure to ensure a safe environment for all, are the products of capitalism.

Natural and un-natural disasters

While all natural disasters can’t be prevented, wars and corporate environmental destruction can. Global warming can be reversed and environmental destruction can be repaired, but not by individuals. This must be a massive planned effort by all of us. And the only way to make these changes is to get rid of the cause, i.e., the profit-driven system of capitalism.

Indeed, while all of these catastrophes are happening, the most wealthy and powerful country in the world, with the most powerful and prolific weapons of mass destruction, the U.S., is planning to build even more, and more-lethal, weapons.

An October 18, 2017 CounterPunch article by Chris Ernesto titled “Funding for War vs. Natural Disasters”2 illustrates capitalism’s inability to alleviate natural catastrophes while pouring trillions into war and destruction:

“Nearly one month after being crushed by Hurricane Maria, 85 percent of Puerto Ricans still do not have electricity, and 40 percent do not have running water, and people from the Southwest and the Southeast U.S. continue to struggle with the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey….”

In callous response to this reality, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, called the people of Puerto Rico “lazy,” implying they are individually responsible for cleaning up the massive environmental crisis they now face.

Yet, in fact, according to the same article, “Congress appropriates more than 70 times the amount of money for the military as it does for the Federal
Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund: $700 billion for the U.S. Military, and $9.9 billion for FEMA Disaster Relief.”

And this does not include “…spending $1.25 trillion dollars to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and $566 billion to build the Navy a 308-ship fleet…”

The U.S. war budget—now in the trillions of dollars yearly—is more massive than all other countries combined! If these commanders of capital are allowed to continue in their path of mass economic plunder and destruction we will be looking at the end of the world, literally.

It is no wonder individuals in our society go insane and take their fear and aggression out on innocent people. That is what our irrational capitalist governments do on a daily basis.

That is what war is—the murder of innocent people that have no control over their circumstances; no control over their governments; no control over their economic situation; no control over the weapons their governments produce in the world of capitalist competition for profits—with the U.S. at the top of the heap of despots currently in control. These are not democratic choices made by the masses! These are capitalists’ imperative to rule the world in their own interests.

The capitalists care about nothing except their wealth and power. And, in order to maintain that control, they must resort to war, plunder and environmental destruction.

They must drill, drill, drill with abandon. They must blow off mountaintops. They must chop down rain forests. They must bomb the innocent. They must pollute the oceans, lakes and air. They must incarcerate the masses. They must order their police to shoot-to-kill. They must sell their automatic weapons of mass destruction to the highest bidders. Because that is how they maintain their power over us—by creating a world of fear and chaos—blinding us to our common human interests of living in a peaceful and plentiful world shared by all. They want us at war with one another. They thrive on spreading race, class, religious and ethnic hatred where none instinctively exists.

This is not human nature. This is capitalist nature. And only we, the masses of working people across the globe, have the power to end this insanity by building a world where human interests and the welfare of our planet are our collective concerns, and the fruits of our labor are shared equally by all. This is our true human natureto work together to save and protect our world—this is what socialism is all about.



1 https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/13/why-california-is-burning/

2 https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/18/funding-for-war-vs-natural-disasters/